“Never Forgotten” project helping reveal depth of Czech-British ties

Photo: Tom McEnchroe

Support for Czechs living in Brexit Britain may have been the main reason for Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček’s visit to the UK on Friday. However, he chose to begin the day by honouring the fallen heroes who fought side by side with the British in the Second World War. Under the title “Never Forgotten”, their sacrifice is being remembered through a series of commemorations organised by the Czech Embassy in London this year.

Tomáš Petříček and Vice Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester Paul Griffiths,  photo: Tom McEnchroe
Following the German occupation of the Czech lands and the outbreak of war in September 1939, thousands of Czechoslovak men and women moved to allied countries such as Poland, France, Britain and the USSR in order to help in the fight against Nazi Germany.

In less than a year, much of Europe fell to the advancing Wehrmacht and hundreds of these exiles suddenly found themselves in the Royal Air Force, defending the United Kingdom in what would be their “finest hour” – the vital Battle for Britain.

One of them was Pilot Officer Antonín Škach, a member of the Czechoslovak No. 310 Squadron of the RAF, who was shot down over the Netherlands while returning from a mission in September 1944 and today lies buried in Cheshire’s Cheadle and Gatley Cemetery.

It was his grave that Foreign Minister Petříček chose to honour during his visit to the UK on Friday.

“We are celebrating the 75 anniversary since the end of the Second World War.

“I am really glad that on this occasion our embassy launched a project called ‘Never Forgotten’ to remember the bravery of soldiers and pilots who served during the Second World War in the ranks of the RAF as well as other branches of the British Armed Forces.

“I believe it is still a big thing for us today. It reminds us of the strong bond between our two nations which fought side by side in the Second World War.”

Initiated by the Czech Ambassador to the UK Libor Sečka in January, the “Never Forgotten” project will see the leader of the Czech mission to the UK visit the many gravesites and memorials of Czechoslovak soldiers who died while in British service during the war.

The idea is not just to honour the fallen servicemen, but also gather information on the current state of those sites and strengthen the regional dimension of Czech-British bilateral relations.

The British representative greeting the Czech foreign minister and ambassador was the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester Paul Griffiths.

“I certainly think that the minister coming today to Greater Manchester as part of the ‘Never Forgotten’ umbrella is an important way through which to cement our relationships.

“During the Second World War, the Czech pilots were outstanding, brave individuals without whom we would not have our freedom today.

“I think that this representation, 75 years on from that time, is a great indication of how important that relationship is still to this day.”

Despite the length of time that has passed since the conflict, there are still Czechs living in Britain whose lives were directly affected by the kindness that many Britons showed towards Czechoslovak refugees.

Among them, Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, one of the Jewish children saved by the train evacuations from Bohemia and Moravia organised by the late Sir Nicholas Winton and his team. Also in attendance, she showed Mr Petříček and her fellow expats the original magazine postings written by Britons who offered to adopt the child refugees at the time.